The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

In the readings for today’s mass we see the contrast between Eve and Marry.  The couple in the garden seem very familiar.  Adam and Eve sinned against God by eating of the forbidden fruit.  When God asked Adam why he had done such a thing, he blamed Eve.  When God questioned Eve, she blamed the serpent.  Neither of them wanted to take responsibility and so both of them, along with the serpent were thrown out of the garden.  Most of the problems we face in this modern world can be traced to someone not taking responsibility for their own actions.

Fast forward to today.  Many of our brothers and sisters blame their poor choices on someone or something outside themselves.  They blame their parents.  They blame their school.  They blame the government.  They blame “society”, whatever that is.   Rarely do we hear someone say, “I made a bad choice.  I did something stupid.  I take full responsibility for my actions.”  Like Adam and Eve, we blame everyone but ourselves.

Contrast this with Mary’s response to the angel in today’s Gospel.  In the first-century world there was hardly anyone lower in society than Mary.  She was a young girl from a small town.  She was unmarried, which meant she had no place in the community.  Yet here was the angel telling her that she would bear a son, even though she had never had relations with a man.  And, not just any son.  “He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”  Imagine how frightening this must have been for her.  She was to be the mother of a king who would rule forever.

No one would have blamed Mary if she had refused.  But, she didn’t.  She accepted God’s word and agreed to do what He asked of her.

How many of us have been asked to do something big; something we thought was beyond our capabilities?  How did we respond?  Every idea we have, every challenge we face is a call from God.  Do we respond like Adam and Eve, or do we respond like Mary?  It’s not hard to notice that every Catholic church in the world has at least one statue or painting of the blessed Virgin.  You can’t say the same for Adam and Eve.  Mary’s response, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.” is our model.  As you reflect on this solemnity, this Wednesday of the Second Week of Advent, think of the times you had a chance to say “yes” to God.  What happened when you said “yes” and what happened when you said “no”.

Like I said in the beginning, the world would be a much better place if more people would follow Mary’s example and if fewer people followed Adam and Eve’s.

Wednesday of the Second Week of Advent-12/7 vs. 9/11

President Roosevelt called December 7, 1941 “a day that will live in infamy”.  The surprise attack on US naval forces on that day killed thousands of Americans.  We had never been attacked in such a brutal manner and our retaliation was swift and decisive.  Of course the outcome was that we were victorious in World War II, both against Japan and against Germany and her allies.  12/7 was the 20th century equivalent of 9/11.

As I was driving to the dentist this morning I noticed a couple of flags flying at half mast and my first response was to wonder why.  Then I remembered that today is Pearl Harbor Day.  Then I wondered how many people are even aware that this is the 70th anniversary of that terrible day or even how many care.

The number of people living today who were alive on December 7, 1941 is dwindling.  For most Americans World War II is history, not current events.

I suppose there are valid arguments about which day was worse; 12/7 or 9/11.  On the one hand, Pearl Harbor was an attack on US soil by a sovereign nation where 9/11 was a terrorist attack by a small group of men who hate America.  Score one for 12/7.  On the other hand, the thousands of Americans killed at Pearl Harbor were mostly military people.  It was an act of war and there’s always a possibility that, when you join the service, death is a possibility.  Most of the Americans killed on 9/11 were civilians.  Hard-working people who left home that morning with no thought that they might never return.  That certainly makes 9/11 worse, much worse.

I guess that, unless you lost someone on one of those fateful days, it’s hard to say that one was more heinous, more evil, than the other.  The point is that each of those days marked a major turning point, not just in American history, but in world history. Nothing was the same after 12/7/41 and nothing was the same after 9/11/01.  As we reflect on the coming of the Baby Jesus during Advent, we look forward and we look back.  If, after 70 years, most of us don’t spend a lot of time thinking about Pearl Harbor, then chances are that in another generation, 9/11 will be just as obscure in our (actually our children’s and our grandchildren’s) memories.

I’d guess that most Americans living today have long ago forgiven the Japanese people.  I wonder if, in 2061, most Americans will have forgiven the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks?  Christ calls us to forgive those who have hurt us, but some sins are easier to forgive than others.  On this eleventh day of Advent, 2011, we might want to reflect on forgiveness.  Jesus forgave those who crucified Him.  “Father, forgive them.  They know not what they do.”  If He could forgive those who killed Him, aren’t we called to be equally forgiving?

Is there anyone in your life who has hurt you?  Are you still harboring a grudge?  If so, is your anger hurting the other person or is it just hurting you?  Why not heal yourself?  It’s easy.  You probably won’t forget, but you can forgive.  And forgiveness will do you a world of good.

Monday of the Second Week of Advent-Ben Stein on “Merry Christmas”

Thanks to Chip Joel for posting the following on facebook.  I present it here , without comment, for your consideration 

1 November 2011

Apparently the White House referred to Christmas Trees as Holiday Trees for the first time this year which prompted CBS presenter, Ben Stein, to present this piece which I would like to share with you. I think it applies just as much to many countries as it does to America …

The following was written by Ben Stein and recited by him on CBS Sunday Morning Commentary.

My confession:

I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish. And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees, Christmas trees. I don’t feel threatened. I don’t feel discriminated against. That’s what they are, Christmas trees.

It doesn’t bother me a bit when people say, ‘Merry Christmas’ to me. I don’t think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn’t bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu . If people want a creche, it’s just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away.

I don’t like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don’t think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians. I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period. I have no idea where the concept came from, that America is an explicitly atheist country. I can’t find it in the Constitution and I don’t like it being shoved down my throat.

Or maybe I can put it another way: where did the idea come from that we should worship celebrities and we aren’t allowed to worship God ? I guess that’s a sign that I’m getting old, too. But there are a lot of us who are wondering where these celebrities came from and where the America we knew went to.

In light of the many jokes we send to one another for a laugh, this is a little different: This is not intended to be a joke; it’s not funny, it’s intended to get you thinking.

Billy Graham’s daughter was interviewed on the Early Show and Jane Clayson asked her ‘How could God let something like this happen?’ (regarding Hurricane Katrina).. Anne Graham gave an extremely profound and insightful response. She said, ‘I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we’ve been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives. And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out. How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?’

In light of recent events… terrorists attack, school shootings, etc. I think it started when Madeleine Murray O’Hare (she was murdered, her body found a few years ago) complained she didn’t want prayer in our schools, and we said OK. Then someone said you better not read the Bible in school. The Bible says thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not steal, and love your neighbor as yourself. And we said OK.

Then Dr. Benjamin Spock said we shouldn’t spank our children when they misbehave, because their little personalities would be warped and we might damage their self-esteem (Dr. Spock’s son committed suicide). We said an expert should know what he’s talking about. And we said okay.

Now we’re asking ourselves why our children have no conscience, why they don’t know right from wrong, and why it doesn’t bother them to kill strangers, their classmates, and themselves.

Probably, if we think about it long and hard enough, we can figure it out. I think it has a great deal to do with ‘WE REAP WHAT WE SOW.’

Funny how simple it is for people to trash God and then wonder why the world’s going to hell. Funny how we believe what the newspapers say, but question what the Bible says. Funny how you can send ‘jokes’ through e-mail and they spread like wildfire, but when you start sending messages regarding the Lord, people think twice about sharing. Funny how lewd, crude, vulgar and obscene articles pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion of God is suppressed in the school and workplace.

Are you laughing yet?

Funny how when you forward this message, you will not send it to many on your address list because you’re not sure what they believe, or what they will think of you for sending it.

Funny how we can be more worried about what other people think of us than what God thinks of us.

Pass it on if you think it has merit.

If not, then just discard it…. no one will know you did. But, if you discard this thought process, don’t sit back and complain about what bad shape the world is in.

My Best Regards, Honestly and respectfully,

Ben Stein

Saturday of the First Week of Advent

Jesus went around to all the towns and villages teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom, and curing every disease and illness.  At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd.”

Imagine how Jesus must feel today.  Millions of people are troubled and abandoned.  Surely He has the power to heal all of us, but that’s not the way His Father set things up.  First, we must understand that God the Father gave us free will.  We can do any stupid thing we want to do.  Besides, He sent His Son to die on a cross for our sins.  If we choose to ignore God, what is He supposed to do?

 

Jesus sent the twelve out to tell the world that “the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  In the same way He calls you and me to do the same.  Like Jesus, it breaks my heart to see so many people who could be healed but who don’t want to listen to the world of God.    Following Jesus isn’t easy.  It takes work which begs the question, “What can I, a professed Christian, do to ease their suffering?  Am I doing all that I can?  (OK, that’s two questions.)

 

Advent is a great time to examine our own actions; to ask ourselves what can I do to bring more people to Christ?  Spend time quietly reflecting on this and God will give you the answer.I

Friday of the First Week of Advent

One sentence in today’s Gospel tells us a lot about Jesus’ ministry and about our faith.  When the blind men ask Jesus to heal them He says,

“Let it be done for you according to your faith.”

And they’re healed.

Think about what this means.  The blind men were healed because they had faith that Jesus could heal them.  In another passage of Matthew’s Gosple (Matthew 17) Jesus tells us that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed we will be healed.  If the blind men didn’t have faith in Jesus, if they just approached Him because they thought he might be able to heal them, nothing would have happened.

Faith is the belief in something that can’t be proved.  As you and I go about our daily lives we have faith in many things.  We have faith that the other drivers won’t run us off the road.  We have faith that the bridge isn’t going to fall.  We have faith that when we go to bed at night, we’ll wake up in the morning.  If we didn’t have faith in something, chances are we wouldn’t get out of bed.  We’d never leave the house.

But what do we do when our faith is really tested?  Are we like the blind men?  Do we put ourselves in God’s hands?  Or, do we have doubts?  Could it be that when we pray we leave open the slightest possibility that God may not answer our prayers?  Maybe that’s why our prayers aren’t always answered.  I don’t think there’s such a thing as “a little faith”.  Either we believe what God tells us, or we don’t.  There can be no middle ground.

Of course, there’s also the possibility that God will give us what we need rather than what we want.  You know how that works.  You ask for “A” and God gives you “B”.  Then it turns out that “B” was more beneficial than “A” could have ever been.

As the great 20th century philosopher Garth Brooks said, “Some of God’s Greatest Gifts are ‘Unanswered’ Prayers”.  As you meditate on God’s word today think of times in your own life where what you got turned out to be more then you asked for.

Have a Blessed Friday!

Thursday of the First Week of Advent

I fell off a ladder yesterday.  I was putting up Christmas lights.  I remember standing on the ladder and I remember lying in the driveway.  It’s the part in between that seems to have escaped me.  Fortunately I didn’t break anything (except one landscape light) but apparently I have a concussion, soft tissue damage, and a boo boo on my head.

My clumsiness and lack of balance has nothing to do with Advent, but I’ve had some time to think about the whole incident and to reflect on a couple of important points.  First, some of our lights are 10 feet off the ground and some are 30 feet high.  Thanks be to God I decided to fall while putting up the lower lights.  Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t be writing this.

Second, someone saw my  ordeal and banged on the door to let my wife know.  Third, I’m grateful that my wife called 9-1-1, over my objections.

Everything happens for a reason and while I’m not sure why I needed to fall on my head, I know I will find out sooner or later.  Maybe it’s just a lesson in humility, or maybe it’s a sign that I should stay off ladders.  Whatever, I’m grateful to be in one piece, I’m grateful that I can get up and walk around, albeit painfully.  I’m glad to be alive!  I hope you are too.

Have a blessed day and be careful out there!